Every year or so I am reminded, usually by a client or prospect, to teach about stage fright.
This time, it was a prospect who told me she was so terrified of any type of public appearance it was significantly hindering her progress as a highly successful venture capitalist. She’d raised millions and because she was doing some truly groundbreaking work, she was being asked to speak at major forums – you know… the kind of speaking opportunities most of us only dream of – but she was turning them down. It had suddenly morphed into a big problem and she knew it. Kudos to her because sometimes people are so scared, they don’t even investigate solutions.
In my long and deep experience, I’ve found there are two types of stage fright. There’s the type most people get when they have to stand up before a group and the stakes are high. That’s about 95% of my clients. Then there’s the type where the fear and anxiety are so great, it might be considered clinical.
The good news is there are solutions for both.
Let’s start with the first type of stage fright, the one that’s felt by most people.
You know how it goes… you have a speaking engagement or an important meeting to lead where the stakes are high. Could be that the room is filled with potential buyers of your product or service or maybe your CEO is attending your meeting. These things are enough for even the supremely confident to feel their hearts race, palms sweat, and voices waver. Experienced presenters will feel it too. The difference for them, however, is they will have practiced and prepared enough so those “fight or flight” feelings are manageable. They stay under control. In fact, in the best scenario, they are intense for only a few minutes at the outset, then they dissipate and the speaker relaxes into the “zone.”
Too often, however, speakers don’t prepare well enough and that’s a recipe for failure. In fact, it’s the biggest obstacle my busy clients face. Practicing is tedious and boring and there is always something more interesting to do. So, before they engage me, I’m very clear about what I expect because I know if they don’t practice, they won’t succeed and that’s not good for either of us.
When you’ve practiced enough and the right way, you are able to deal with all the inevitable things that go wrong, you’re able to stay on track. You’re even able to have some fun.
Practice alone is the cure for this group of stage fright sufferers.
The second type of stage fright needs something extra. As mentioned earlier, these are the people who are suffering so terribly they avoid any situation that might exacerbate it. They’ll turn down awesome speaking engagements, they won’t volunteer to lead any meetings, they won’t even call someone like me. They’ve always felt this way and have come to accept the false premise that there isn’t any help out there for them.
But there is… medication. You may have even read about world-class musicians taking what’s become known as the “stage fright drug” before an important audition. I’m not a doctor and I don’t diagnose or prescribe, but I have learned when to suggest to a client this might be a solution and they should pay a visit to their doctor. The medication I’m referring to is known as a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers inhibit the adrenaline response and are typically prescribed for people will high blood pressure and other conditions. These patients take them regularly.
People who need them for stage fright, however, take them only when needed. I’ve see these drugs work miracles. Clients have thanked me profusely for bringing it to their attention. I am just so happy not to see people suffer needlessly. There is a caveat: a small percentage of people are ineligible for these meds. That’s why you have to see your doctor. And if you’re one of the few who has to do without, there are still workarounds.
By the way, this group still has to practice, by the way, just like group one. All those same principles and techniques apply. But you have to be able to get to the point of accepting a gig where practice is required and that’s what this allows.
So the cure for stage fright is either practice or practice + a little extra help in the form of the stage fright drug.